How to optimize your legal team’s productivity and bring more value to the business

Apr 21, 2022

Reading Time: 8 minutes

What does being productive mean to you? Often when we imagine what ‘productive’ looks like for the in-house legal team there are two scenarios.

The first is a team working hard, ticking the boxes, and diligently working on a high volume of tasks as fast as they arrive on their desks. Many of these tasks are high frequency and low value, taking up valuable time. It’s a place where the day-to-day just needs to get done, and the department is pretty much working on its own, with limited interactions with the wider business.

The second scenario is a team working in a progressive environment, where people are working on high-value legal tasks, building legal knowledge, making data-informed decisions, and impacting the strategic direction of the business. There is the capacity for this type of work as the more repetitive, time-consuming, and lower-value tasks are either taken care of or optimized by legal technology. Additionally, business users can submit legal requests and handle some of their own department’s legal tasks.

Of course, the second scenario is the more favorable option! To have a high-functioning team working like this it’s not just about being productive but optimizing productivity — you might even say it’s the difference between working harder or working smarter. By taking this extra step, your in-house legal team has the right environment to provide a legal function that’s more efficient and is more connected to its work, the department as a whole, and the wider business.

Learn more below as we discuss:

  • what being unproductive looks like
  • why optimizing productivity is important
  • ways to optimize your team’s productivity

What does being unproductive look like?

Working in a team that is underproductive or has ‘unoptimized’ productivity disadvantages the legal department in several ways.

There can be job dissatisfaction within the department, as the day-to-day work takes so much time there isn’t the capacity for more high-value, interesting tasks. There’s also the risk of overwhelm or burnout, where there are never enough hours in the day and certainly never enough time to step back and look at the bigger picture of how legal operates within the business. There’s often a myriad of technology solutions, with team members working across multiple point solutions, searching for elusive files and folders.

Working across multiple point solutions leads to an under-productive environment on several levels. A recent Asana report across industries found that 27 percent of respondents say actions and messages are often missed when switching between apps. In addition, 26 percent consider themselves to be less efficient when navigating app overload, while also struggling with prioritizing their workloads effectively; 24 percent said that app switching also meant work is duplicated meaning hours and hours of lost time and productivity.

It can also mean the wider business is hesitant to approach legal, leaving requests to the last minute or avoiding legal altogether, resulting in a higher level of risk. There is, of course, also the perception of legal being the department of ‘no’, more likely to put up blockers than successfully and timely action a request. This leads to a disconnect between the legal department and the rest of the business, impacting business outcomes and success.

So what’s the solution? It’s optimizing your productivity, so your time is spent on those tasks and transactions that best fit your legal expertise, and provide the most value to the business.

The importance of optimizing productivity

It’s no secret that the workload of in-house legal departments is increasing, with our teams juggling growing business and regulatory complexities and an exploding volume of work. Many in-house teams face these challenges by being more productive, with teams working longer hours, hiring more staff, sending work to outside counsel, and working faster.

But we’re not really talking about ‘more’ as a solution — we’re talking about optimizing your productivity. Rather than ‘doing more with less’ (the phrase we know so well), the solution is more aligned with having systems and processes to enable work on more rewarding and high-value tasks. Working in this way also frees up time to be more involved with the business, engaging with other departments and leaders, working more proactively, contributing to strategic discussions, and making a more impactful contribution to business success.

When you optimize productivity, it leads to:

  • the capacity to manage fluctuating workloads and priorities;
  • the flexibility to deal with unexpected business requests;
  • the ability to mitigate the challenges of major local, national, and global events; and
  • a legal function that provides more value to the business.

Optimizing productivity gives you back time to use on legal work that is of a higher value, is more rewarding, and has more impact on the business.

“I don’t think there are many in-house lawyers who could work twice as much as they do, so the question is how do we work more efficiently or focus on the work that is giving the most value to the organization? Clearly, technology is a key part in that because it gives you data analytics to make sometimes tough decisions around that sort of thing.”
Katie Bhreatnach (GM Customer and Regulatory Partnerships, Airways New Zealand)

Smart ways to optimize productivity

While you’re already ensuring your in-house legal team is productive in the more fundamental sense, elevating your team to optimize its productivity brings an even higher level of functioning. We’ve outlined some tips below to assist you in achieving this.

Find more time to spend on high-value tasks

Legal work is very, very plentiful, and often the more manual, administrative, and repetitive tasks are the highest in volume and take up the most time. We refer to spending time on these tasks and other inefficient ways of working as ‘legal waste’.

Adopting a legal workspace as your solution enables you to gain back time to spend on higher-value work. It provides a single system of record, reducing the amount of time spent switching between point solutions, searching for who’s working on what task, attempting to understand a matter’s context, or trying to gain oversight of the whole team’s current capacity.

High-volume, lower-value tasks are also automated and streamlined, leaving time for more rewarding work. For example using matter types, common tasks such as NDA creation, contract approval processes, intake triaging, and task lists can be automated. Also, tasks such as sending requests for proposals (RFPs) and managing responses can be completed in bulk, reducing the time spent going back and forth with several suppliers.

There are also time efficiencies in the wider business’ interactions with the legal team. Enabling business users to self-serve means they can submit their own legal requests and track the progress in real-time, so legal saves time responding to requests and managing intake. Designing an intake workflow to format requests also ensures data is provided in a structured format. When the legal workspace offers integrations with the solutions business users are already using, such as Salesforce, Outlook/Gmail, Slack, and MS Teams, this is an even more seamless process.

A tech stack that includes a purpose-built work management platform saves considerable time, effort, and money. In fact, IDC found teams who were working with three or more integrations had significant time savings of 30 plus hours each week.

The wider business can also learn more about their specific legal requests, such as contracts, which can often be managed within their own department with further training.

Build legal capital

Increasing and managing your legal IP in-house means the business retains the knowledge, skills, and expertise gained, so it’s available for the next time the same or similar issue arises. This knowledge can be lost temporarily when a team member is away or permanently when they leave the company. When using outside counsel there’s also the risk of requesting (and paying) for the same type of legal work more than once. There’s also the loss of the opportunity to offer higher-value work to the in-house team and to strengthen their skills in a more specialist area.

There are several ways to address these issues and move forward with building your legal team’s IP. Using some of the suggestions on saving time we’ve listed above, there’s also the extra capacity to take on more interesting legal work.

Having a single source of truth by using a legal workspace means understanding the context of a matter is simple. All related details and files are in one system, connected to the matter, and ready for anyone with the appropriate permissions to access current and historical records. Similarly, handovers are simplified when a team member leaves or if they are absent; there’s no more searching through various emails and drives to find the content — it’s all right there in the legal workspace.

With the time made available through automating low-value tasks, the legal team also can take on more interesting and substantive pieces of work, building the legal IP and keeping it in-house. It’s also helpful to create a plan of the types of information you wish to remain in-house, and detail how to capture this content, such as in a knowledge base. Preserving knowledge in-house means previous advice from outside counsel, best practices and playbooks, opinions, and research is preserved for future use.

Maintain oversight of all legal work

Having oversight of all the work your in-house legal team is involved with means knowing where things are at and who they’re with, so you can prioritize and assign tasks with context. Without oversight, there’s the risk of work falling through the cracks, an uneven distribution of work across the team, a lack of visibility of an issue/matter or contract, and the inability to prioritize workload. The manual compiling of data and reports to find out the status of the team’s workload takes up valuable time, and, without a legal workspace, often requires gathering data across several point solutions. Not a very productive way to manage work!

Having oversight means you have control of both the workload and the workflow. The result is the ability to prioritize work, meet deadlines, optimize the team’s capacity and resources, manage outside counsel effectively, and promptly deal with requests from the wider business. The team is able to remain agile and ready to deal with new or urgent issues as they arise.

Oversight is enhanced by using data to inform decisions, and this data can be collated in your legal workspace as you conduct your day-to-day work. Collating data in the legal workspace means in-house team performance, vendor performance, and spend management can be measured and captured in real-time reporting. Data can also be surfaced on matters and contracts, with details such as the type, risk level, contract value, matter owner, key dates, and lifecycle status. By implementing real-time reporting, data can be used to optimize team capacity and workflow, as you’re able to track the progress of a contract or matter at any given time and see on whose desk it’s going to land next, assess turnaround times, and other workload-related tasks.

To gain true oversight there needs to be a consolidated view of all legal work, and using a legal workspace provides this. It enables matters to be the nucleus of every legal issue, where structured requests, requirements, and all relevant workflow touchpoints and documents, are linked to the central matter in a system of record.

Embrace a culture of collaboration

With the introduction of remote and hybrid work, the ability to collaborate effectively to reach high levels of productivity takes on renewed importance. Back-and-forth communications, duplicate work, and documents in different emails, applications, and hard drives all impact productivity across both the in-house legal team and the wider business.

To truly optimize productivity, it’s necessary to consolidate communications, capture the history and context of decisions in a system of record, and provide a repository for all related documents. Adopting legal technology, such as a legal workspace, means there is a single source of truth for all collaboration. Conversations are linked to their particular issue/matter or contract, saving time and providing a rich context for continued work.

Optimize your productivity by leveraging legal tech

Optimizing productivity by adopting new systems, processes, and legal technology frees up time to engage in more high-value and rewarding legal work. It also frees up time to be more involved with the business, engaging with other departments and leaders, working more proactively, contributing to strategic discussions, and making a more impactful contribution to business success.

A legal workspace enables you to optimize your team’s productivity by providing a centralized work management system of matters, knowledge, documents, collaboration, tasks, and projects. It also provides contract management, e-billing, and outside counsel management, intake and self-service, and reports and insights.

Using a legal workspace provides a more connected legal function, both within the team and across the wider business.

Curious about how optimizing your productivity leads to a more connected legal function?
Learn more by reading The Connected Legal Playbook: Your guide to becoming a more productive, engaged and impactful legal team in an increasingly complex legal environment.

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